Outdoor activities may have their risks, but taking the necessary precautions will help make the experience a worthwhile and enjoyable one.
RECENT news of people encountering mishaps while hiking and trekking need not deter us.
Here are some basic safety tips on how to have an enjoyable adventure in the great outdoors of Malaysia.
The most effective way to prevent mishaps is to adequately prepare for the trip.
Knowledge of the area, weather, terrain, limitations of your body, plus a little common sense can help to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.
Travel with a companion
You don’t want to be by yourself in case of an emergency.
Leave a copy of your itinerary with a responsible person, park ranger, or the police.
Include such details as the trip plan, licence plate of your car, radio frequency signal, equipment you’re bringing, your emergency contact and when you plan to return.
If you are entering a remote area, your group should have a minimum of four people.
This way, if one is hurt, another can stay with the victim while two go out for help.
If you’ll be going into an area that is unfamiliar to you, bring along someone who knows the area, or at least speak with those who do, before you set out.
Engaging a local guide will be the best option.
If an area is closed, do not go there.
Know ahead of time the location of the nearest telephone, ranger station, police station, hospital and fire station in case an emergency does occur on your trip.
You can join some reputable social media group for your adventurous outing.
Be in good physical condition
Set a comfortable pace as you hike. A group trip should be designed for the weakest member of the group.
If you have any medical conditions, discuss your plans with your healthcare provider and get approval before embarking on the trip.
Make sure you have the skills required for your camping or hiking adventure. You may need to know how to read a compass, erect a temporary shelter, or provide first aid. Practise your skills in advance. For more information on free outdoor skills workshops, check out www.exploreroutfitter.com.
If your trip will be strenuous, get into good physical condition before setting out.
If you plan to travel to high altitudes (above 2,400m, such as mountain climbing in Nepal), make plans for proper acclimatisation.
Think about your footing while trekking near cliffs. Trees and bushes can’t always be trusted to support you. Stay on developed trails or dry, solid rock areas with good footing.
Wear appropriate clothing for the trail conditions and season. In hot and humid Malaysia, it is advisable to wear quick-drying clothing.
But when you climb to higher and cooler places, you need warmer clothes to stay comfortable.
Check your equipment. Keep your equipment in good working order. Inspect it before your trip. Do not wait until you are at the trail head. Be sure to pack emergency signaling devices. You can subscribe to SPOT (an emergency signal transponder using GPS and you can send emergency messages out to the Search & Rescue Authorities (www.findmespot.com).
Be weather wise. Keep an eye on current and predicted weather conditions.
Know the signs of approaching heavy rain, or changing weather conditions. Beware when you are near waterfalls as the water level can rise very fast.
During lightning storms, avoid mountain peaks, bare ridges and other exposed places, lone trees, streams, and rocks. Find shelter in a densely forested area at a lower elevation. Take note than those camping at Malaysian mountain peaks have been struck by lightning before.
Even in our tropical rainforests, prolonged exposure to wind and rain can result in hypothermia, especially when you are at altitudes above 1,500m. Proper shelter and clothing are important.
Learn first aid
Learn basic first aid so that you will know how to identify and help treat injuries or illnesses.
Carry a first aid kit with you. Every outdoor person must have a personal first aid kit with proper medical background information inside, namely: emergency contact info, blood type, allergies and current medication.
Learn how to identify the symptoms of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, hypothermia and dehydration, and know how to treat them.
Make camp before dark. Trekking in darkness has resulted in unnecessary accidents from falls, so be sure to trek only during daylight.
Set up camp well away from the edge of cliffs, and familiarise yourself with the terrain during the day.
If you have to leave camp after dark, stay in areas you have seen in daylight, go with a friend, and always use a good flashlight.
Be alert for slippery areas and take your time to avoid tripping.
Low-hanging roots and branches make running unsafe, and leaves on the ground can hide slippery areas. Use rope or other climbing equipment to secure your ascent or descent.
Don’t drink and climb
Alcohol and cliffs don’t mix! If you drink, stay away from the cliffs. Judgment, agility and balance are all reduced by alcohol consumption.
Think before you drink! No matter how clean the stream water looks, it’s likely to contain waterborne parasites (e.g. rat urine) and micro-organisms that can cause discomfort and sometimes serious illness. Bring your water, or purify it through chemical treatment.
Be environmentally conscious
Practise “Leave No Trace”. The Leave No Trace Center For Outdoor Ethics (www.lnt.org) strives to educate all outdoors enthusiasts about the impact of their recreational activities, and provides techniques to prevent or minimise it.
Leave No Trace is best understood as an educational and ethical programme, not as a set of rules and regulations.
> These safety tips are prepared by Brandon Chee, a King Scout, member of the Malaysian Medical Relief Society (Mercy Malaysia) and a Wilderness Medical First Responder certified by the National Outdoor Leadership School, Wilderness Medicine Institute (NOLS-WMI) based in Wyoming, United States. He is also one of the founders of the Explorer Outfitter shop at Publika Solaris Dutamas, Kuala Lumpur, which conducts regular workshops on outdoor skills and first aid. Chee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before starting out, do warm-up exercises. Stretching gradually increases heart rate, temperature and circulation to your muscles. Also, after a good night’s rest, your muscles need warming. Stretching gets the body going and increases your flexibility.
Start out slowly, gradually increasing your pace and distance travelled.
Let the slowest person in your hiking, or biking party set the pace. This is especially important when children are a part of your group.
Plan the trip ahead of time and assign tasks that people enjoy. If someone doesn’t cook, don’t force him or her. The goal is to have a good time outdoors.
Take turns leading the group and sharing decision-making responsibilities.
Hike or bike only on marked trails in wilderness areas, unless bushwhacking is allowed and you have excellent navigation skills. Get a map from the Malaysia Mapping Department.
Hike and travel in groups as much as possible, especially during the monsoon season and on hazardous terrain.
Leave your itinerary with the police, a friend or family member and check in with them upon your return.
Learn basic repair skills for changing a bike tyre, fixing a backpack or shoe. Remember to take repair kits on your trail.
In tropical mountains, for every 300m or 1,000ft of elevation, the temperature often drops two to five degrees. It is therefore best to dress in layers. Polyester clothing worn closest to your skin will trap warm air next to the skin and transfer or wick body moisture away.
Wear sunglasses and a hat or visor when you hike or bike. The heat in a tropical rainforest can be nasty.
Bring sunscreen. You can get painful sunburn when outdoors.
Bring a customised first aid kit tailored to your outing. Every single person must carry his/her own personal first aid kit. You must also have a group-size first aid kit for more complicated emergency usage during the trip.
Develop an emergency plan before you start your trip. Make sure everyone knows what to do if they are lost or a medical emergency arises. Give each person a whistle with the instruction to “stop and blow” if they are lost.
Take frequent rests or vary your pace to recover from strenuous activity spurts. A steady pace will get you there with less discomfort than the sprint-and-catch-your-breath approach.
Drink plenty of water. Water is heavy to carry, but thirst on the trail is a hazard. Take a tip from athletes: before a hike, drink some water so you’re well hydrated and energised. Never drink your total supply between refills.
Wilderness water supplies are unpredictable. It’s better to arrive at a gushing stream with some water left, than to arrive at an empty stream and have no water left at all. Treat or filter all water.
Pack carbohydrate-energy bars, granola, candy, or fruit. They provide an instant pick-me-up on the trail.
Give yourself about two hours’ daylight to set up camp.
Pay attention to local regulations, particularly concerning campfires. In many national park or forest reserve areas, fires are prohibited and you must use a camp stove.
> Want to share some tips on interesting outdoor activities, safety, equipment or eco-friendly practices? Please write in to our outdoors coordinator, Andrew Sia, at email@example.com.